No. 14: Auburn

Quick now. No Google Search allowed: Who won the SEC West last year?

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If you said, ``Alabama,’’ go back to your device. It was Auburn, which beat the Crimson Tide 26-14 in the Iron Bowl two weeks after throttling Georgia 40-17. The Plains Tigers lost their rematch with the Dawgs 28-7 in the SEC title game, then got beat by undefeated UCF 34-27 in the Peach Bowl.

That’s a lot of tough games in a very short span. And it took a toll on Gus Malzahn's banged-up team.

Auburn will need to brace for an even more challenging finish this fall. The Tigers travel to Georgia and Alabama for two of their final three games.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

In the game before that, they’ll play host to Texas A&M, which is expected to crank up under new coach Jimbo Fisher. And then there’s that season opener with highly regarded Washington.

In other words, Auburn will have plenty of opportunity to assert itself—or again be lost in the head-to-head shuffle.

If the Tigers surprise, though, it won’t be all that surprising.

They return starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who threw for 3,158 yards and 18 touchdowns a year ago while learning the offense of Chip Lindsey, who’s now in his second year as OC. Stud runner Kerryon Johnson is gone, but Kam Martin is poised to lead a strong RB corps that has good depth.

A key concern is the offensive line, which has lost four seniors and returns only three players who have started games. Much depends on how quickly O line coach J.B. Grimes can prepare an experienced but talented unit.

Auburn’s defense, which held opponents to 18.5 points a game, again is expected to be among the stingiest in the SEC. The D line is especially imposing.

What it all adds up to is, if Auburn stays healthy and catches some breaks, it has the players and coaches to navigate a very dengerous schedule. If not—well, it’s tough to share a state with Alabama and a border with Georgia.[/membership]

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